I’ve always been intrigued by the big questions of life. Who am I really? Why am I here? What’s my purpose?
That’s why things like mission statements and core values (You should get some!) are intriguing to me. I like to know the overview.
Growing up in a religious home and community, I was given the official answers to these questions. Maybe you were too. Even so, I still liked searching for myself.
One of the central questions in my community was, “Are you ready for Jesus to return?” In other communities the equivalent questions was, “If you died tonight, do you know where you’d end up?”
This question informed a lot of what we did. If you knew the answer, you knew how to live.
At least that’s what we thought.
Here! I have a tract for you.
We did not invent these questions. People have been asking them, I suspect, since words were invented. In one of the first recorded instances, a guy walked up to Jesus and asked the biggest question there is to ask. This guy was educated. He wasn’t coming to Jesus as a newbie, looking for a day one orientation. Still, he wanted to hear Jesus’ answer.
He asked, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (You can read the story in Luke.) We’re going to explore Jesus’ answer in coming posts, but first we’re going to just sit with the question.
If you grew up in modern Christianity, there’s a good chance you already know what this question means. Or you think you do.
He’s asking “How do I get saved?” right? Well, not really. Modern Christianity has reduced the gospel to a story with two significant moments. First, there’s the moment you “accept Jesus” and believe that He died for your sins. That moment saves you. Then there’s the future moment when, because of being saved, you will go to heaven to spend eternity with God. In the story most often told in evangelical Christianity, these two moments seem like the only ones that matter. It makes sense, in that view, that this is what the man was asking about.
How many days in a row of the life you have now would be too many?
But he wasn’t. The idea of “being saved from sin so we can go to heaven,” wasn’t a part of 1st century Judaism. Jesus’ answer tells us that he wasn’t thinking about this either. So what could they be talking about?
The Greek phrase in question, zoe aionios, isn’t as obvious as we’d like. The phrase is translated as eternal life, and that’s not a wrong translation. But it is only a slice of the pie, as it were. Literally the words mean, “life of the ages.”
In 1st the century Jewish worldview, there were two ages: the current evil age, and the age to come. The age to come was the Messianic age, when God’s kingdom would reign supreme. So, this life “of the ages,” was referring to the kind of life the Messiah would bring into being, a life lived in full alignment with God’s reign, receiving the benefits of God’s reign, and sharing those benefits with the world.
An unending life is a part of that story. God is the source of all life. If our lives come into complete alignment with God, we will have this God-given gift of life forever. That is what we were made for.
But a life made up of many, many days is not, in itself, a good thing.
Think of some of your most stressful or painful days and ask yourself, “Would I want to live this day over and over without end?” Well? My answer is a tortured sigh and a prayer for something better.
No. Eternal life is not just a life of never-ending days. It is also a life lived in God’s presence, experiencing and expressing God’s character, as citizens and ambassadors of God’s eternal reign. That’s much more immediate and relevant than a spiritual insurance policy that protects against something that could happen somewhere off in the distant uncertain future.
Which kind eternal life inspires you more?
How you come to this big question largely shapes what you do with Jesus’ answer.
If your view of eternal life is all about something that will happen somewhere in the future, a ticket for heaven and a rescue from hell, you will apply Jesus’ answer in one way.
If your view of eternal life is broader than a distant future, if it includes today, and tomorrow, and the thoughts and feelings you are having right now, you will respond differently.
So, before we go on, consider this. Which kind of eternal life inspires you today?